Saturday, October 16, 2004

A love that's built to last


Thursday September 16, 2004

A love that's built to last
* A Passion to Preserve: Gay Men as Keepers of Culture Will Fellows University of Wisconsin Press, $30

By Steven Barrie-Anthony

The author sets out to write a history of gay men as "keepers of culture," as avid and effective preservationists. Gay men, he claims -- and he makes a good case -- have long joined with women to protect and preserve architectural gems. Will Fellows tells of neighborhoods across the U.S. where gays pioneered rehabilitation: New York's SoHo, Boston's Beacon Hill, San Francisco's Pacific Heights.

Perhaps more interesting than the core idea is the framework that surrounds it -- the idea that "gay sensibility is an essential facet of human nature." This notion is bound to encounter resistance, but Fellows makes his case by analyzing his life (his "culture-keeping tendencies" emerged early: At 14, he opened an antiques shop in a poultry shed on the family farm) and by including nearly 30 essays by other preservation-minded gay men. (Poet Mark Doty meditates on his love of an old, worn silverplate pitcher and on rehabilitating an 1884 Italianate Victorian house in Vermont.)

Fellows says gay men are "drawn to preservation because it involves a cluster of concerns that resonate ... with our intermediate natures: creating and keeping attractive and safe dwelling spaces; restoring and preserving wholeness and design integrity; valuing heritage and identity; nurturing community relationships; fostering continuity in the midst of change." Judging from the life stories in this book, at least, these characteristics ring true.

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